The Afterlife: Coping With the Loss of a Son Through Giving
Photo: Melissa Ann Pinney
When her son Peter was killed on a hijacked plane on 9/11, Sally Goodrich concluded that life as she knew it was over. But then she found a new mission—building schools in, of all places, the harsh, violence-ridden land of Afghanistan.In April 2006, Sarah Goodrich, a 61-year-old school administrator from Bennington, Vermont, paid a visit to a newly constructed girls' middle school in Logar, Afghanistan. Logar lies an hour and a half from Kabul, in a broad, fertile valley encircled by the arms of the Hindu Kush. When Goodrich, whom everybody calls Sally, had come here the year before, children were attending classes in tents set up in an open courtyard. Now, it was a two-story building with 26 rooms that could hold some 500 Kindergarten through eighth graders. It looked, Sally thought, like a Comfort Inn, and it had no heat or plumbing. Still, she was proud of it. This school for girls is one of the first in a region where they were once illegal and where girls who pursue an education still take their lives in their hands. And it was built largely with funds—some $236,000—that Sally raised herself.
On this visit, she'd come with several boxes of backpacks for the schoolchildren. She'd also brought a gift for the principal: an English-Arabic Quran. The village elder, a ferociously bearded, grandly turbaned man named Haji Malik, was astonished by it. He'd never heard of the holy book being printed in any language besides Arabic, the language in which the angel Gabriel is said to have dictated it to the prophet Muhammad. Sally told her hosts that she'd brought the bilingual Quran because that was the edition her son Peter used to read. He'd read the Quran the same way he'd read the Bible, avidly and with attention, marking passages that interested him with brass book darts. Peter Goodrich was killed on September 11, 2001, when the plane on which he was traveling for business, United Airlines 175, was hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists who, 20 minutes later, flew it into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Before then, Sally says, "I was pretty all-American. I was a grandmother, I was a wife, I was a dutiful daughter. I was a teacher, I was an administrator, and I was not a world citizen in any respect." On September 11, however, Sally Goodrich's life, and that of her husband, Don, was changed as catastrophically as a life can be. In a sense, their lives ended. For more than a year afterward, she couldn't drive her car on the winding roads near her home without wanting to swerve into the oncoming traffic. But over time, the Goodriches found a new life. This new life—or afterlife—is centered on Afghanistan, the country that once sheltered Osama bin Laden, the man who planned Peter's murder and is now under renewed threat from his old allies in the Taliban. Over the past two years, Sally has traveled there five times for the charity she and Don founded, the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation, which raises money to build schools and fund development projects. Although the trips are arduous and increasingly dangerous, she says Afghanistan is the place where she feels most at home. "When I'm in Afghanistan, I feel like I'm in Peter mode. I feel connected to him. I'm fortunate to be there, I'm fortunate to be where people are good to me. They're so warm. What a great place to be heartbroken. Anyone who's in pain should have the experience of being plunked down in a place where everyone is heartbroken."
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